Any overreaction to our uninspiring display at Arsenal would be unnecessary, but we stunk of a team with very little to play for on Monday – and that can’t continue.
We may be 7 clear of Cardiff – practically 8 points ahead if you factor in goal difference – but the job isn’t done just yet and our opponents in this one are no pushovers, with Palace possessing the quality to frustrate us at both ends.
It’s not just about winning to stay up at this stage, however. Get three points here and it will feel like both Benitez and the club can finally get this contract situation sorted once and for all, with Rafa insisting for weeks now that he’ll only focus on matters off the field once we’ve secured survival on the pitch.
With Schar back and Yedlin ‘touch and go’, it’s tough to predict this week’s back line. I expect the Swiss international to come back in given his ball playing style has been key to our success at St James’ Park lately, so it’ll be interesting to see what he does with Lascelles, Lejeune and Dummett. Could we see a return to four-man defence, seeing Dummett move back into a left-back role, or will Rafa stick to the three centre-backs system that’s worked wonders on home turf recently? I see him sticking, but it’s hard to know where Dummett fits if he plans to keep the Schar-Lascelles-Lejeune trio going, with Paul hardly being suited to an offensive wing-back role.
If Hayden or Diame do pass late fitness tests I can see one o the two partnering Shelvey in midfield for this one.
Jonjo didn’t feature at Arsenal on Monday – which was frustrating given our total lack of creativity – but Rafa’s confirmed that he’s now ‘ready’, hinting that he could come back into the side for this one.
I’m not convinced Hayden will be risked, nor am I convinced by Ki on current form, so we could well see a familiar pairing of Shelvey and Diame – a duo worth looking at given both should be fighting for their futures at the club ahead of a potentially uncertain summer.
Up top it’s hard to see anything other than the ‘three amigos’, but we’ll have to hope they’re all MUCH better than they were on Monday night, with Almiron flattering to deceive, Rondon looking sloppy and sluggish and Perez being frustratingly below his best.
Preferred NUFC XI – (3-4–2-1) – Dubravka– Schar, Lascelles, Lejeune – Yedlin, Hayden, Shelvey, Ritchie – Perez, Almiron – Rondon.
Here’s a few ‘ones to watch’ in Roy Hodgson’s side:
Wilfried Zaha – I don’t really like the bloke, with him constantly playing the victim and acting as though he’s entitled to special treatment due to the constant fouling, but there’s no doubting his talent. Whether it’s Yedlin or Manquillo at right-back, his pace, power and trickery will make him very difficult to stop if he’s ‘on it’.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka – England have a real talent on their hands with the 21-year-old right-back who has shone in his first full season in the top flight. He’s tall, athletic and seems to time his tackles very well, so his duel up against our very own Miguel Almiron will be a real one to watch.
Michy Batshuayi – The Belgian international is on loan from Chelsea and can be devastating in front of goal on his day. We had the odd defensive lapse both on Monday and in the 3-2 win over Everton, so they must be kept to a minimum between our three centre-backs if we’re to keep him out.
Andros Townsend – He missed their midweek defeat at Spurs but looks set to return for this one. We know what he’s like from his short but impressive spell at St James’ Park, being direct and dangerous when allowed to cut in onto that sweet left foot.
Predicted Palace XI – (4-3-3) – Guiata – Wan Bissaka, Tomkins, Dann, Van Aanholt – Milivojevic, McCarthur, Schlupp – Townsend, Batshuayi, Zaha.
Fabian Schar is back following a two-game ban, but Isaac Hayden, Mo Diame and DeAndre Yedlin are set to have late fitness tests after picking up ‘little problems’ this week according to Rafa. Jonjo Shelvey is in contention to return.S
Ex-Mag Andros Townsend looks set to be recalled after missing their midweek defeat at Spurs, while first-choice centre-back Mamadou Sakho is ruled out once again.
It’s a battle of two teams in similar predicaments and a clash of similar styles, with Palace usually at their best when given space to hit sides on the counter attack away from home.
Palace are a funny side. They’ll go to Man City and win, looking impressive at both ends of the pitch on their day, but they have a tendency to play well below their potential or be overly reliant on a certain Wilfried Zaha.
Both sides know that a win will all but secure our Premier League status for another season. You know what that means – draw!
Prediction: Newcastle 1-1 Crystal Palace
Howay the lads!